Arizona: a ‘terrorist corridor?’

A major threat to homeland security that has lurked uneasily in the back of America’s public consciousness burst into the news last month when the FBI issued a bulletin to the Mexican media and border-area law enforcement to be on the lookout for a suspected al Qaeda terror cell leader who might be trying to sneak into the United States along immigrant smuggling routes.

I’m sure many people had the same reaction I did to the news about “armed and dangerous” terrorism suspect Adnan G. El Shukrijumah: an aggravated lack of surprise. After all, how could our notoriously porous border not be a conduit for terrorists? Why wouldn’t those seeking to attack America be tempted to join the hundreds of thousands already illegally entering from Mexico? Money talks if you’re trying to cross the border, and if there’s one thing we’ve learned from the accounts of the 19 hijackers of Sept. 11, 2001, it’s that they are well financed.

Recent news reports focusing on border security concerns are a welcome development for those of us who have been pushing the issue for years. Watchdog groups have sneaked fake weapons of mass destruction over the border to illustrate America’s vulnerability.

The Border Patrol has released data, excerpted nearby, on how many “Other Than Mexican” (OTM) foreign nationals were apprehended in just a nine-month period on the southern border. It’s a genuinely frightening list, particularly when you remember that despite their best efforts, the agents catch fewer migrants than they miss.

Most of these people are typical illegal aliens in search of freedom, economic opportunity and a better way of life, but they’re still breaking the law. And if even a tiny fraction is terrorists, we now know the potential for destructive attacks can be enormous.

That’s why, as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology and Homeland Security, and a member of the Subcommittee on Immigration, I have worked hard to educate senators from states that don’t share our “front line” problems about this reality.

We have provided significant increases in personnel and resources, including raising the Border Patrol force from 4,000 in 1996 to around 11,000 today, adding Customs inspectors, and providing “force multipliers” like lighting projects, night-vision goggles and truck-sized X-ray machines.

I also helped secure $2.3 million for the Nogales Cyberport project, a collaborative federal, state and local effort to bring state-of-the-art infrastructure to the Mariposa Port of entry in Nogales. Much more needs to be done.

In March of last year, I chaired a hearing on the need for infrastructure and technology improvements at the border.

The following day, Sen. John McCain and I brought Department of Homeland Security Undersecretary for Border and Transportation Security Asa Hutchinson on a tour of southern Arizona. We visited the busy ports of entry at San Luis and Nogales, the vast lands of the Tohono O’odham Nation and National Park Service that are heavily traversed by illegal immigrants and drug smugglers, as well as the expansive property of a cattle rancher whose land has been virtually overrun.

As a result of the trip, Secretary Hutchinson has announced additional resources and policy changes to address the problem.

Meanwhile, liberal groups have raised their usual objections of “fear-mongering” and, in the words of one member of Congress, “using terrorism... to divide the community.” One wonders what they will say if a future attack is traced back to someone who came over the border illegally.

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